Tag Archives: Wilbur Smith

The Intel: Matt Cairns

As you know, the world is our oyster where writers are concerned, and in this global marketplace, you don’t have to be in the US or the UK to make an impact. Matt Cairns is a writer from the Bay Of Plenty whose crime-horror mash-up Cold Blooded has been picking up terrific reviews. You see how easy it is? You can can check it out right here.

Matt CairnsA former soldier and cop, Matt’s first novel is set in the spectacular surroundings of New Zealand’s north island. Right now, for your reading pleasure, Matt gives us the intel on the masters of the genre, the menace of small, isolated towns and the dreaded ‘E’ word that writers don’t use often enough… exercise.

Tell us about Cold Blooded…

Cold Blooded is a supernatural thriller/horror about a guy named Tom Jade, who wakes up on a bus in the middle of nowhere with no idea of how he got there, where he’s going, or who he is. He winds up in a small town, cut off from everywhere by a harsh winter, and before he knows what’s happening; everyone is trying to kill him. There’s lots of snow, lots of blood, and plenty of full-on action.

Cold Blooded is a thriller – but it also has fantasy elements. Have you always enjoyed mashing up genres?

I grew up reading all sorts of genres—Stephen King, Dean Koontz, Wilbur Smith, Tom Clancy; fiction and nonfiction, real and unreal—but my preference (passion, I suppose) was for horrors and thrillers with an element of fantasy or the supernatural. I enjoyed straight fantasy—Tolkien, Terry Brooks—but what I really liked was the modern everyday world (our own world) combining with an otherworld element. The idea that our safe, predictable, realistic lives could come under attack from the unrealistic—mastered in believable fashion, of course, by the likes of King and Koontz. And then there’s the added bonus of some dark disturbing humor. Perfect.

The novel is set in the town of Waiouru on the north island of New Zealand – how does the landscape inform the story of Cold Blooded?

I always knew my first novel would centre around a small isolated town coming under attack from an evil overwhelming force. Waiouru was the perfect place for me to set the story, not only because it really is a small country town that gets snowed-in during winter, or because it’s attached to a military base (a key element of the story), but because I spent a good part of my childhood and working life in the place. In other words, everything was already there—the church, the tavern, the woods and police station, even the “Desert Road”. All I had to do was picture it from memory. Who knows…if Cold Blooded ever makes it to Hollywood, maybe they’ll film it there. I can’t see the locals complaining.

Cold BloodedYou’re a former cop and a former soldier – how have your experiences influenced your writing? 

The helpful part in terms of my writing is that I don’t have to do much research into aspects of policing or soldiering: procedure, lingo, equipment and vehicles, weapons use and handling. So from a technical point my personal experience comes in handy. Another practicality of having that past is the pride and discipline both jobs teach.

Writing a novel is tough, and I believe the learned ability to stick to a routine and work hard, even when your mind and body have had enough, has definitely helped me through the process. It also helps, when I’m struggling, to remind myself that it could be worse; I could be back digging holes in the rain, or humping a pack up a mountain, or picking up teeth and brains from the roadside. A ‘no-brainer’ really.

Take us through a typical writing day for you?

I like to be at my laptop as early as possible. I write until lunchtime, then eat, check emails, deal with my social media commitments, get some fresh air, then back to writing. I work solidly ‘til around 4 or 5, then pause for a ‘mental assessment’. If I still feel like writing, then I carry on. If I feel like stopping, then I stop…my writing day is done. I then recheck emails, social media, and relax for the rest of the evening, which invariably involves still thinking about the work, and making notes if something comes to mind.

I do look at the day’s word count but for me it’s more about the full day of writing. If you put in the hours, the word count usually looks after itself anyway. And yes, I did say usually. At some point during the day I also try and fit in some exercise. It’s important. Trust me on that one.

What’s the hardest lesson you ever had to learn about writing?

Overcoming doubt. Easily the biggest challenge (and not just during the first book) is to continue in spite of the constant fear and self-doubt. What am I doing? I’m not a writer? This isn’t going to work. I’m going to fail. I’m gonna look stupid in front of everyone. I want my old job back! I might have hated it, but at least I had an income.

You have to believe in yourself. Trust your instincts, trust your passion, not the voices of doom in your head. (Or the voices of doom from friends and family). As Stephen King said: ‘…you can, you should, and if you’re brave enough to start, you will.

How do you deal with feedback?

If it’s good, I print it out and keep it, and refer to it now and again. If it’s bad, I allow myself a moment to feel like crap, then I go over it again and decide whether or not the person who gave it knows what they’re talking about—whether or not they have a point. If I think they do, I take it on board and use it to improve my writing. Otherwise I shrug it off and forget about it.

Who are the authors you admire, and why?

This sounds lame, but I admire all authors, especially now that I understand the incredible effort involved in writing a book, or any writing of some length. Having said that, I particularly admire Stephen King, not only because I’ve been reading his books since I was about eight, and love his writing, but because of his attitude to his work; his passion toward writing in general, and his willingness to pass on what he knows. Anyone learning the craft, regardless of chosen genre, should listen to what he has to say. I may stand corrected, but I do believe he’s still considered the hardest working writer in the world today.

Give me some advice about writing…

Ask yourself why you are doing it. Are you writing only for yourself, with no intention of making any money, let alone giving it to someone else to read? Is it a personal release perhaps? Or just something to do, something to pass the time? If so, then you don’t need any advice. Enjoy.

But if you are doing it with the intention of making money, perhaps even making a living, then you need to ask yourself a second question: What is my ability? If you’re supremely confident that your writing is perfect, that you don’t have anything to learn, then write your piece and send it out. Best of luck. As for the rest of us mortals, I suggest you learn everything you can.

You’re obviously already a reader (aren’t you?), so keep doing that, but also read every book you can find on how to do it right. If you want to, do a course. When you think you’ve learnt enough, go for it. Then rewrite it. And rewrite it. And rewrite it again. When you think it’s perfect, that there’s nothing more you can do with it, get it professionally assessed.

 Of course, you don’t have to do any of this. I’m just telling you what worked for me. You’ll find your own way, whatever suits you. Best of luck.

What’s next for you?

Keep writing, while continuing (hopefully) to improve my work. Keep fit. Stay mentally and physically healthy. Enjoy life. Read more King, Koontz, St Clair Butler. Watch movies. Listen to The Eagles.

That’ll do it.

Research – Philip Kerr

researchPhilip Kerr’s new standalone thriller Research is as cynical and disillusioned as a boozy publishing lunch. The novel takes two authors on the road when one of them – the super-rich, super-successful John Houston – is accused of murder.

The blurb has regrettably decided to fire its agent:

The rolling strip across the bottom of the screen shouts the news:


Houston is the richest writer in the world, a book factory publishing many bestsellers a year – so many that he can’t possibly write them himself. He has a team that feeds off his talent; ghost writers, agents, publishers. So when he decides to take a year out to write something of quality, a novel that will win prizes and critical acclaim, a lot of people stand to lose their livelihoods.

Now Houston, the prime suspect in his wife’s murder, has disappeared. He owns a boat and has a pilot’s licence – he could be anywhere and there are many who’d like to find him.

First there’s the police. If he’s innocent, why did he flee? Then again, maybe he was set up by one of his enemies. The scenario reads like the plot of one of Houston’s million-copy-selling thrillers…

There’s not a huge amount you can say about Research without giving its twisty game away, but we’ll give it a go.

They say write what you know and Kerr, a crime writer with many years experience, has chosen to poke a sharp stick at his own industry. Research is a sly, psychological thriller about writers and writing, and the seething resentments that fester when creative isn’t given its due. It’s virtually a two-hander, in the spirit of Schaffer’s Sleuth or Ira Levin’s Deathtrap.

John Houston is a wildly-successful international hit machine – an amalgam perhaps of James Patterson, Robert Harris and Wilbur Smith. He’s got the beautiful actress wife, a fleet of classic cars, homes all over the shop – including a pad in Monaco – and a mistress in every town.

Houston has recently dismantled what he calls his atelier, a group of long-suffering authors who anonymously pen his never-ending torrent of novels. Houston writes the extraordinary plot outlines – he long ago realized that his readership keep coming back for his stories – and employed a team of bitter underlings to churn out the prose, long before it became a standard industry procedure. Subsequently, a lot of people have become rich on the back of Houston’s success – his publisher and agent among them – and not long after Houston disbands the atelier he goes on the run with one of his authors, Don Irvine, after being accused of shooting his wife.

A playful morality tale, Research has a lot of fun with its central, toxic relationship between Houston and his resentful friend/minion, Irvine. The pair open bottle after bottle of fine burgundy and smoke cigarettes at exclusive restaurants as they roar across the south of France in a borrowed Bentley in a bid to clear Houston’s name. Houston in particular is a terrific character, arrogant and complacent and oddly sympathetic. Imagine Kingsley Amis and Jeremy Clarkson in a remake of Thelma And Louise and you’re in the ballpark.

It’s hugely readable, at times it’s blackly funny, and the dialogue is a particular treat. Kerr fills his story with gossipy literary references and name-dropping tidbits – and there are a few choice asides about the state of the industry. Research is a bitter fairytale – what writer hasn’t dreamed of the kind of super-rich lifestyle enjoyed by Houston? – and its narrative unravels with the kind of delicate precision that would have made Ira Levin proud.

The bland title Research does the book no favours, I think, and I was expecting one more twist along the way, but Kerr delivers an enjoyably spiteful little tale – decidedly more Roald Dahl than Bernie Gunther.

Kerr’s louche protagonists, two seedy examples of the haves and have-nots in publishing, will not be to everybody’s tastes, and if you’re the kind of person who goes puce with rage at fruity language – or if you’re sensitive about your Cornish heritage – it may be a book you want to avoid. But if you like bitter morality-tales in which high-handed super-rich people are brought down a peg or two, you can do worse than take this to the beach with you.

Research is an easy read, which leaves an enjoyable vinegary aftertaste like the sediment at the bottom of that last glass of fine burgundy.

Many thanks to Quercus for the review copy of Research.